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Children's Health

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Vapor Rub Helps Kids' Cold Symptoms, Sleep

Vapor Rub Beats Petroleum Jelly & No Treatment for Cough, Congestion, Sleep Problems

Children's Cold Remedies: Results

Parents reported the next day on their child's cough (frequency, duration, severity), congestion, their child's ability to sleep, and their own ability to sleep and not be disturbed by their kids' coughing and other symptoms.

Except for runny noses, the vapor rub gave the greatest improvement, followed by the petroleum jelly. The no-treatment group reported the least amount of improvement.

Kids treated with the vapor rub and their parents had fewer problems sleeping than the other two groups.

"Our data suggest that the vapor rub provides systemic relief," says Paul. He reports having been a paid consultant for Procter and Gamble as well as other companies.

He can't pinpoint a specific improvement, such as the vapor rub kids coughing 25% less, for instance, but says the differences between the treatments were significant from a statistical viewpoint.

While vapor rub has been used for many years, studies on its effectiveness are scarce, Paul says. Menthol may work by improving the nasal sensation of airflow in congested kids and adults, according to some other research. Those in the vapor rub group did have the most side effects, such as skin rash or burning, with 46% of parents reporting them. "My sense is, it couldn't have been all that severe," Paul says of the side effects, "if they slept better."

Children's Cold Remedies: Second Opinion

"Parents are in a quandary right now," says Dennis Woo, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of California Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine and former chair of pediatrics at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, referring to the move away from OTC cold remedies for young children.

"I would describe it as interesting," Woo says of the vapor rub study results, "something to be aware of."

He does not typically recommend vapor rub, he says, and the study probably won't sway him to start. He cautions parents who may try vapor rub that the study only looked at children ages 2 and up. (Vicks' product information specifies VapoRub is for use in those 2 and up.)

When parents ask what they can do for their children's cold remedies, Woo points out that tea with honey has some research backing it, but not to give honey to children under 1 year, as they are at risk for botulism, a potentially serious food poisoning.

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